Child helping her mother in the kitchen

Photo by Annushka Ahuja on Pexels


Tuesday, November 7, 2023

momma made the best baked fish in the world.

dad fed us stories.


momma was the paranoid one.


it was three in the morning, and i had two chapters left,

and i came running to momma with a cut on my finger,

and she put all the knives on top of the fridge.


you were sick when we were kids and

vomited up every pill in existence,

and when i started getting pains in my gut,

all the -fens and -oxides and 

all the anti- this and pro- that

were replaced by poultices and

tiger balm and herbal steam.


dad was a fisherman and momma had us.

he kept his boat in an iron house by the docks,

which the sea breeze painted red and yellow and brown.

we played hide-and-seek in the crates

until momma heard news of a kidnapping

on the other side of the country.

then she kept us in the room farthest from the street.


something fell on our roof

in the middle of the night and then

there was a shotgun in momma’s closet.

mrs. jacobson looked at dad from her mailbox

while he was cleaning the gutter and then

there was a handgun in momma’s nightstand.


dad went fishing when it started to drizzle.

when he came home,

without a word to momma,

he told us stories about mermaids

and pirates and krakens

and we drank his words like

they were soda-pop.

when he came home,

momma baked fish and it started to shower.


when the storm outside our bedroom door sent

the windows rattling, your laughter pulled

sunlight between the curtains,

and for a while the howling stopped,

and the oven went cold.


one day it rained so hard water came in through every wall.

we hid on top of our beds while our toys drowned

on the sea-carpet alone. the ceiling was crying for them,

weeping right onto our little heads.

one day we packed the survivors into boxes

furnished with our clothes onto dad’s boat,

and we all left.


momma kept it together for a few weeks

until the ocean became too endless.


momma made the best baked fish but

dad hated fishing.

momma hated the way he told us stories

and the way we loved to eat his words and not her fish;

hated the way he looked at the shoreline,

the skyline, the stars, the clouds,

at everything with a longing and nostalgia

that evaporated when the oven dinged and

he turned to look at her; hated the way he talked

to us, to the salted fish, to the picture frames

when he thought no one could hear;

hated the way he did anything that wasn’t her.


it rained and when it rained it poured and

it was pouring constantly.

we used to hide when it thundered,

when the rain beat iron into rust.

it was something to hide from.

because silence is humid and thick and syrupy and

good for a while until it slides over everything and

drenches you to the core. everything

sweet turns sour and bitter and momma

one day couldn’t handle all the sweetness,

and she flushed all of herself into the sea.